Before and after last summer’s wheat harvest.
As I’ve mentioned once or several times, I spend much time watching the sky behind our house. I never cease to be fascinated by the false horizon created by this low hill. Behind it is a another false horizon created by Wenlock Edge which lies a half mile further on. Here in Wenlock, then, we see the movement of clouds in the westerly sky several hundred feet higher than do our neighbours below the Edge. It is a piece of geographic happenstance that makes for dramatic skyscapes. It’s a bit like watching a moving stage set.
I justify the time spent sky watching on the grounds that I need to make the most of this view. Doubtless the local landowner will get his way and one day build a sprawling housing estate here, this despite the fact the town has a Victorian drainage system that cannot cope with any more human effluent. Already, just to add an off-colour atmosphere to the scene, our sewage works is licensed to dump excess untreated waste into the stream which thence flows into the River Severn and through the World Heritage Site of the Ironbridge Gorge. This is clearly what is meant in England when certain politicians bang on about Victorian Values. Sometimes I wonder how, as a nation, we can be so very smug about ourselves.
The poor drains of course add to the town’s flash flooding risk, and to replace them would cost many millions. We do not appear to have a planning system in this country that says NO to development, even though there is insufficient infra-structure to support it. Developers of course pay a pro rata community levy on the number of houses built, but such amounts could not begin to cover the cost of the kind of remedial work that is necessary. When Wenlock’s population is less than 3,000, why would a water company spend 10 million pounds on such a venture?
The main problem is that the town sits in a hollow behind the summit of Wenlock Edge. The town centre is at the lowest point and thus one of the most vulnerable areas. In 2007 over fifty houses were damaged. Many afflicted families were still trying to restore their homes up to a year later. And while insurance cover may make good the bricks and mortar, it does not bring back the personal belongings that were lost, or quickly eradicate the memory of having a metre high flood rushing through your house.
Mostly of course, the town does not flood, although parts of it are prone to run-off from surrounding hills in times of prolonged wet weather. As far as we know, our house has never flooded, although given its position, built into the bottom of the hill, this is in some ways surprising. There is anyway a low earth bund along the back boundary and, after earlier flood incidents lower down the street, the landowner’s tenant farmer continues to leave a broad swathe of uncultivated ground behind our houses, and then ploughs in line with it.
In fact to create real problems it takes a certain kind of storm to hit our catchment area. But when it comes there is less than 20 minutes warning before a flash flood. The roads into the town become rivers. Every hard surface speeds up the flow, and given our antiquated system, all the storm water goes into the foul sewer. All of which is to say, as one of the flood alert wardens with the brief of forewarning elderly neighbours, I also have more pressing reasons for watching the sky, and keeping an eye on any storms brewing.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
In Much Wenlock An Inspector Calls
Please visit Paula’s place at Lost in Translation for more fascinating cloudscape photographs.